American Teacher Jailed in Russia for Cannabis Smuggling

Stephen Andrews
23 Jun 2022

A Moscow court has sentenced U.S. teacher Marc Fogel to 14 years in prison for "large-scale" cannabis smuggling. Fogel, who worked as a teacher in the Anglo-American School of Moscow, was reportedly caught with a stash of medical marijuana he claimed was prescribed in the United States after a spinal operation. Customs officers arrested him after arriving from New York with his wife at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow in August 2021. Russian authorities alleged marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage, concealed in contact lens cases and e-cigarette cartridges.

American teacher Marc Fogel is the latest American caught up in Russia's legal system. The man was reportedly caught with a personal stash of cannabis he claimed was for medical purposes. However, cannabis for medical use is not legal in Russia. Fogel has defended that he was unaware of "Russia's ban on medical marijuana."

"The American citizen Fogel has been found guilty," the Khimki court said in a statement last week. It said Fogel committed "large-scale drugs smuggling" by crossing the Russian border, as well as "large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose," according to CBS News

Russian officials said in January that customs officers had detained Fogel after arriving in Moscow along with his spouse. 

Alexander Khurudzhi, a member of a Moscow human rights committee who joined a group of lawyers that visited Fogel in December, said at the time, "He [Fogel] insists that it was medical marijuana and claims that a doctor prescribed it to him in the United States, which is allegedly confirmed by an entry in the medical record."

Fogel reportedly told the lawyers that he carried around 17 grams of marijuana, or a little over half an ounce, as he entered Russia last year. 

Russia's Interior Ministry has not specified the amount Fogel is accused of carrying. The country's law classifies a "large amount" of marijuana as anything above 100 grams (around 3.5 ounces). Between 6 and 100 grams, it's defined as a "significant amount," punishable by lower jail sentences, or in some cases, only a fine is required to be paid. 

Before becoming a teacher at the Moscow school, Fogel reportedly enjoyed diplomatic immunity as a staff member of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow until the summer of 2021. It is not known whether he has retained his diplomatic status ever since. The U.S. Embassy has not commented on Fogel's case.

The United States and Russia regularly clash over detentions of each other's citizens, and sometimes they arrange Cold War-style prisoner swaps. 

Marc Fogel's sentencing comes as relations between Moscow and Washington are tense over Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. 

Several other Americans are currently detained in Russian prisons, including basketball star Brittney Griner who had a contract for a Moscow team. Her pre-trial incarceration was recently extended until at least July 2, the second extension in a month. 

Griner faces similar charges as Fogel and could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. She has been accused for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage as she flew to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport on February 17.

Legal experts believe that the two-time Olympic gold medalist is unlikely to get a fair trial and that the postponed court hearing date is fictitious. She may be clandestinely found guilty and sent to a prison camp, or she may end up in a prisoner exchange.

Stephen Andrews